30 December 2010

RTR Awards 2010 - And the Nominations Are.....

Category: Best Play (non-Shakespeare)
After the Dance (June)
London Assurance (March)
A Christmas Carol (January)

Category: Worst Play (non-Shakespeare)
 Dracula (November)
 Danton’s Death (August)
Love the Sinner (May)

 Category: Best Shakespeare
Macbeth (June)
Henry V (February)

 Cateogry: Worst Shakespeare
Hamlet (October)

Category: Best Musical
Passion (September)
Curtains (July)
Pirates of Penzance (April)

Category: Worst Muscial
Spamalot (June)
Paradise Found (May
)Shirley Jones (March)

Category: Best Ballet/Dance Production:
Cinderella (December)
Cinderella (April)
The Snow Queen (January)

Category: Worst Ballet/Dance Production
Le Corsaire (August)
 Royal Ballet Triple Bill (April)
The Nutcracker (January)

Category: Best Individual Performance
Elena Roger – Passion (September)
Fred Lancaster – Curtains (July)
Simon Russell Beale – London Assurance (March

Category: Worst Individual Performance
Laura Blackmore – Dracula (November)
Mandy Patinkin – Paradise Found (May
Shirley Jones – Shirley Jones in Concert (March)

Category: Worst People to Sit Next To
The West End Whingers - Passion (September)
Drunk and Oboxious Couple - Cinderella (December)
Practically everyone – Carmen (May)

Category: RTR Reader's Awards:
Nobody bothered to nominate.  Thanks guys. 

Awards Envelopes will be opened early in the New Year.

22 December 2010

Romeo and Juliet - RSC @ The Roundhouse - Monday 20th December 2010


A Chorus introduces two feuding families of Verona, the Capulets and the Montagues. On a hot summer's day, fighting by the young men of each faction is stopped by the Prince who threatens the law. Capulet plans a feast to introduce his daughter, Juliet, who is almost fourteen, to the Count Paris who seeks to marry her. By a mistake of the illiterate servant Peter, Montague's son Romeo, and his friends Benvolio and Mercutio hear of the party and resolve to go in carnival disguise. Romeo hopes he will see his adored Rosaline; instead he meets and falls instantly in love with Juliet.

The Montagues are recognised by Juliet's cousin Tybalt and are forced to leave the party just as Romeo and Juliet have each discovered the others identity. Romeo lingers near the Capulet's house and talks with Juliet when she appears on her balcony. With the help of Juliet's Nurse, the lovers arrange to meet next day at the cell of Friar Lawrence when Juliet goes for confession, and there they are married.

Tybalt picks a quarrel with Mercutio and his friends and Mercutio is accidentally killed as Romeo intervenes. In anger Romeo pursues Tybalt, kills him and is banished by the Prince for the deed. Juliet is anxious that Romeo is late meeting her and learns of the fighting from her Nurse. With Friar Lawrence's help it is arranged that Romeo will spend the night with Juliet before taking refuge at Mantua. To calm the family's sorrow at Tybalt's death the day for Juliet’s marriage to Paris is brought forward.

Capulet and his wife are angry that Juliet does not wish to be Paris's bride, not knowing of her secret contract with Romeo. Friar Lawrence helps Juliet by providing a sleeping draught, and when the wedding party arrives to greet Juliet the next day they believe she is dead. The Friar sends a colleague to warn Romeo to come to the Capulet's family monument to rescue his sleeping wife.

The message is fatally delayed and Romeo, hearing instead that Juliet is dead, buys poison in Mantua. He returns to Verona and goes to the tomb where he surprises and kills the mourning Paris. Romeo takes his poison and dies just as Juliet awakes from her drugged sleep. She learns what has happened from Friar Lawrence but she refuses to leave the tomb and stabs herself as the Friar returns. The deaths of their children lead the families to make peace, promising to erect a monument in their memory.
Escalus, Prince of Verona – David Carr
Mercutio – Jonjo O’Neill
Paris – James Howard
Montague – David Rubin
Lady Montague – Simone Saunders
Romeo – Sam Troughton
Balthasar – Gruffud Glyn
Capulet – Richard Katz
Lady Capulet – Christine Entwhistle
Juliet – Mariah Gale
Tybalt – Joseph Arkley
Nurse – Noma Dumezweni
Friar Laurence – Forbes Masson
Creative Team:
Dierctor – Rupert Goold
Designer – Tom Scott
Lighting – Howard Harrison
Costumes – Rachel Dickson
Its very easy to write a review when you really enjoy a production, and its even easier when you loathe it (in fact, in these cases, the reviews more or less write themselves). What I find really difficult is writing a review when a production has been more or less OK. Its very difficult to express “meh” in words. In terms of both production ideas and performances, there werew some very good ones here, a couple of completely acceptable ones and a couple of really naff ones. It took me a long time to warm to both lead roles, and I think only Juliet really convinced me in the end that she was worth the effort, eventually winning me over. It takes a skilled actress to convey the impetuosity of a hormonal teenager if not in real love, then in love with being in love itself, and I think Mariah Gale managed to convey this very well in a kind of bewildered, hair-chewing and moody way. I felt completely ambivalent about Sam Troughton’s Romeo for most of the evening, and that’s never a good sign. What was a really bad sign is that I thought Forbes Masson’s Friar Laurence completely lacking in any kind of authority - religious or academic - and found myself increasingly irritated by his bumptious jollity, his rather laissez-faire approach to religion and his forever bounding about the stage like a slightly podgy ginger Labrador anxious to please everyone. What this production needed was a still core about which the city of Verona whirled in turmoil, and not finding it in Friar Laurence, I found it in the unlikely form of Noma Dumezweni’s Nurse, who managed to convey a strong sense of “been there, seen it, done it”, which was a pleasure to watch.

I also enjoyed the central conceit of the production, in that Romeo and Juliet started out in modern dress, standing out nicely against everyone else who wore more or less “period-style” if not strictly period costume, This made them appear like ghosts from the future. At the end, both wore more or less period costume, with everyone else in modern clothes – to quote Tennyson’s The Princess “The present as we speak becomes the past. The past repeats itself and so is future”. What I would like to have seen done here was a more gradual slide from one period to the other in the costumes rather than an abrupt change. Practically all I remember of the first opera I ever saw (Verdi’s Falstaff, if you’re interested – bad choice of first opera to see, and which probably explains my ambivalence about opera to this day) was the way that all the characters started in 1930s dress, and on each successive appearance, their costumes became more and more Jacobean. I remember thinking at the time what a clever idea that was.
I was disappointed that, because of the “in the round” staging, much of the dialogue was lost through a combination of bad projection and bad acoustics. I was also rather disappointed that the opening idea wasn’t developed any further – Romeo listened to the opening “In fair Verona where we lay our scene” speech via a recorded narration on headphones, almost as if he were a modern day tourist seeing the sights of the city. Another clever production idea was to have a rose window lighting effect projected onto the floor, the design of which was exactly the same as the metal grating cover in the middle – love may raise us up to heaven but pull us downwards into hell. This Verona was not drenched in blazing sunlight but composed of torchlit alleyways and shadowy courtyards. It was particularly nice to see the “Balcony scene” done completely from Romeo’s point of view – the acting area was in total darkness lit only by the light streaming from the window above. When Romeo climbs the balcony and he and Juliet finally get some major snog-action going, the entire wall surrounding the window lights up with the kind of sunburst you get surrounding Christ in Renaissance paintings. This was the only time that daylight shone on Verona, which I think was meant to echo the line in the closing speech about “The sun, for sadness, will not show His head”. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise how clever the lighting was. It’s a pity that I came away not feeling as impressed with some of the performances – I still maintain that Romeo and Juliet is an incredibly difficult play to pull off successfully, and I don’t think the RSC have quite managed it yet, at least as far as I’m concerned. But then we all know how difficult to please I am.





Romeo (of the Montagues of Beaulieu) and Juliet (of the Catapults) in under 15 minutes, performed by sock puppets!

The best - and worst - of 2010

Here at RTR Towers, I'm busily writing my last review of the year (coming in a couple of days).   I want YOU, dear reader, to nominate the best and worst theatrical production you've seen this year in the comments box at the bottom of this post.  I'm making a list of my own nominations ('cos this is my blog!) and will announce the winners shortly. For the RTR Readers Awards (Best Show and Worst Show of 2010) I need you to nominate!

21 December 2010

The Nutcracker - ENB at the London Coliseum - Wednesday 15th December 2010

Guests arrive at the Stahlbaum house for a Christmas Eve party.  Clara's uncle, Herr Drosslemeyer, a magician, is among the guests.  He introduces Clara to his nephew and gives her a nutcracker doll, which is broken by Freddie, Clara's brother.  It is magically mended.  Drosselmeyer presents a magical puppet show.  The guests leave after the party and Clara is sent to bed. 

Waking at midnight, Clara hears noises downstairs and goes to investigate.  Magically, the Christmas tree grows larger and larger, and Clara is attacked by mice. She is rescued by the Nutcracker doll, commanding a regiment of Freddie's toy soldiers.  The Nutcracker is injured and the soldiers are captured by the mice.  Clara and the Nutcracker escape into the snow, followed by the King of the Mice, where they are hidden by a snowstorm.  A hot-air balloon, containing Drosselmeyer, lands in the forest and flies them to safety in the Kingdom of the Sweets.  Unfortunately they fail to realise that the King of the Mice is hanging from the bottom of the balloon's basket.

Landing in the Kingdom of the Sweets.  Drosslemeyer and the Nutcracker finally manage to defeat the King of the Mice.  Clara is entertained by dances given by the Sweets.  She is transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy, and dances with the Nutcracker, who takes on the appearance of Drosselmeyer's nephew.

Waking on Christmas Day, Clara wonders if it has all been a dream.  Looking out of the door, she sees the hot air balloon flying past....

Clara – Fernanda Oliveira
Nutcracker Prince – Fabian Reimar
Drosselmeyer – Juan Rodriguez
His Nephew – James Forbat
Mouse King – Yat-Sen Chang
Creative Team:
Music: Tchaikovsky
Choreography – Wayne Eagling
Design – Peter Farmer
Lighting – David Richardson
Its not Christmas without The Nutcracker. Fortunately, English National Ballet have finally jettisoned the pile of crap they have been foisting on the public for the last however-many years (I reviewed it last year and a complete load of crud it was too). Their new production is far more traditional and far better, making the company look much better. Unfortunately, the choreography is still way below par (the big pas de deux in Act II is a complete lift from the Birmingham Royal Ballet production that I witter on about ad nauseum to anyone who will listen and Act II is still as dreary and uninspiring as it always is - the story always grinds to a complete halt and becomes a series of interminable divertissments; its time someone had the courage to jettison these at least partially and do a re-write). Even so, there were several moments when principals couldn’t cope very well with what they were given and simply looked uncomfortable.
It was, for me, a game of two halves (with kick-off enlivened by a slight spat with a woman in the row in front who had draped her fur coat over the back of her seat and who was clearly concerned that I was going to steal it. I countered her fussings and re-organisings with “Don’t worry madam, I’m not going to spit on your furs” (a change from my usual anti-fur comment of “Excuse me, there seems to be blood dripping from your coat, Madam”). “Oh”, she replied, managing to put about 8 vowels in the monosyllable, “it’s railly nylon!” (as if someone in a £65 seat is going to be wearing a nylon coat over her Yves St. Laurent suit. Yes, and I’m Little Noddy, madam.) Anyway, I digress.
Visually, Act 1 is really, really lovely visually. There are people skating on the frozen pond in front of the Stalhbaum’s house, and the sets and costumes are in lovely muted and “antique” browns, creams, dull pinks and creams with the occasional mint green or pale blue dress or ribbon setting everything off nicely. The whole party scene is set behind a gauze, giving a misty and slightly hazy look, as if lit by candlelight (although the Christmas tree is bedecked with red, yellow and green fairy lights, which is completely wrong for the mid to late 19th century). Uncle Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks are somewhat laboured however, and there’s a completely irrelevant puppet-show taking the place of the traditional harlequin and clown automata. The confusion is heightened when people dressed as characters from the puppet show start a long, complicated and unexplained section of dance which adds nothing to the story so far (reading the pro reviews at a later date, I find that the people are Clara's elder sister and her three suitors). The rest of the party dancing, however, is lovely to watch, and I was relieved that the faintly embarrassing “Grandma and Grandpa” dance is here changed to a pas-de-quatre for the whole Stalhbaum family, which was a lot more dignified. The final sections of Act 1 were, in themselves, a game of two halves. The part in which the Christmas tree grows huge (or Clara shrinks) was a real disappointment – nothing in the room changed apart from the Grandfather clock (which I think grew bigger at the incorrect moment) and the tree itself was simply pulled up into the flies to make it look as if it had grown (at least one of the pro reviewers was as disappointed with this bit as I was). The anachronistic fairy lights didn’t extend the entire length of the bigger tree and it was pulled up too far so you could see it was simply a bit of painted cloth. The mice, however, were wonderful – really scary – with eyes blazing from skeletal heads and dressed in tattered Jacobean ruffs, doublet and hose. I loved the idea of using a huge mousetrap to fire bits of cheese at the toy soldiers, although they only did this once and it seemed a bit wasted not to make more use of the idea. This is also the first production I’ve seen where the mice actually win – the toy soldiers are taken off in a cage and Clara and the injured Nutcracker escape by running out of the house into the snow, which makes for a completely logical change to the woods of the next scene. The snowstorm scene is, for me, the defining scene of Nutcracker – fail here and you lose me entirely, regardless of how wonderful the rest of the production may be. In this production, this scene is really rather workaday – not awful, but then not really anything very special. At least, however, the snowflakes didn’t jump out of the freezer as in ENB’s old production! That production suffered mightily at this point by completely failing to include the traditional off-stage children’s chorus (I thought I had gone deaf) so it was a relief to have it back. However, regardless of the fact that the Coliseum is an opera house, it was sung by the children from the company, and was at times painfully out of tune – less “aaaah, ahhhh, aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh” than “aaah augggh #awwwwuggggggghhhh#”. Perhaps they were trying to scare the mice away? I said to Him Indoors afterwards that they should have had a chorus of opera students, but this was dismissed out of hand with “There are no opera students that young”. “Well then, St. Martin’s in the Fields is just round the corner and ENB should have rented their choristers to do the job properly rather than have that load of caterwauling” I replied. This useful, practical and entirely appropriate suggestion was ignored, sad to say.
All the good ideas of Act I were completely thrown away in Act 2. What looked like it might be an interesting continuation of the story (the Nutcracker and Clara were followed to the Kingdom of Sweets by the Mouse King) went completely for nothing and fizzled out within 5 minutes, the dark green set was incredibly dreary  and desperately under-lit (although enlivened by part of the Stahlbaum’s parlour dropping in unexpectedly for about 18 bars and then disappearing just as rapidly as the stagehand responsible realised his mistake) and there was no Sugar Plum Fairy – simply Clara in a different costume. Boooooo! Cheeeeeap! The divertissments* were, as usual, uninspiring, boring or, occasionally, completely bewildering. There now follows a short intermission in order to explain the asterisk in the last sentence.
* Each dance in what is termed “The Nutcracker Suite” represents an expensive and festive foodstuff that Clara might be expected to find in her Christmas stocking. The Spanish Dance represents oranges, which in the 19th century and well into the early 20th century (i.e. before year-round-everything in supermarkets) were only seen in northern Europe as a Christmas treat, The Arabian Dance is coffee, the Chinese Dance is Tea. The Dance of the Myrlitons (commonly known to those of a certain age as “Everyone’s a fruit and nut-case”) is candy-cane flutes, the Russian Dance is “trepak” which is a kind of toffee-fudge, the Waltz of the Flowers is candied flower petals. The Kingdom of Sweets is, appropriately, ruled by the Sugar-Plum Fairy; remember the line from “The Night Before Christmas” when the children were sleeping “and visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads”? Well, plums were another traditional 19th century festive treat, which is why what we call Christmas Pudding is called Plum Pudding by Dickens and others. Who said that this blog wasn’t educational? And now back to your usual programme.
“Coffee” seemed to be a lecture on the evils of the slave trade as instead of generic Arabian Nights stuff, Clara rescued two slaves carrying sacks (possibly of coffee) from a bloke in baggy pants and his four harem girls. We had no candy canes but got the reappearance of the people who danced in front of the puppet show in Act 1, three of whom wore the same costumes as they had the first time round and one of whom who had changed her ballgown for something slightly skimpier. Their presence seemed completely unexplained until a huge net sprang out of the wings and flopped over the woman. This confirmed that she was, in fact, being a butterfly, but failed to explain why she was being a butterfly, why the three men from Act 1 were dancing with her or indeed exactly what the entire point of this bit was in any way. The Waltz of the Flowers looked rather under-rehearsed and thin – it should have been an “all hands on deck” moment but ENB’s very small corps looked completely marooned on the chilly expanses of the ENO house. Fernanda Oliviera did an OK job as Clara but when she took on the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy her shortcomings were cruelly exposed. But still, the evening is a darned sight better entertainment than the old production, for which I suppose I should be grateful
The journey home was enlivened by reading an incredibly pompous interview with the designer in the programme.
“When I first did Giselle, she was always in blue and I had great fights about it, but it was only the influence of Walt Disney. Now I notice that not all Giselle’s are in blue, so maybe I made some poor attempt to influence them”.
Well, Mr. Farmer, let me correct you there. Giselle traditionally wears a blue dress in the ballet of the same name, simply because the costume designer of the first ever production (1851)was madly in love with the dancer who created the role of Giselle; she apparently had stunning blue eyes and the costume was made to enhance these. The first Disney heroine to wear blue was Cinderella, which was made in 1950, so this film had no influence on the blue costume traditionally worn by Giselle in the ballet. Many modern Giselle’s still wear blue. Some don’t – and I doubt that you’ve had any influence on this at all.

What the critics thought:
(a distinctly mixed bag of reviews, most of which comment on the dreadful lighting design):



An incredibly pompous interview with the designer!

05 December 2010

Cinderella - Sadler's Wells Theatre, Saturday 4th December 2010


London, 1940. Cinderella’s home is over-run by her new step-mother and her loud, obnoxious family. There is never a moment’s peace for her and her invalid father. When invitations arrive to a New Year’s Eve party, to which neither Cinderella or her father are invited, the uproar is louder than ever. During an air-raid, an injured pilot seeks shelter in the house, but is thrown out by the stepmother when he takes an interest in Cinderella. With the family gone to the party, Cinderella dances with a tailor’s dummy, pretending it is her handsome airman. Seeing that he has left his cap behind, she braves the streets in search of him to return it, watched over by a Guardian Angel. A bomb drops nearby, and Cinderella is thrown to the ground, losing consciousness. In her dreams, the Angel provides her with an invitation and safe transport to the party, which she is told that she must leave before midnight, along with a beautiful dress to wear.
The bomb has devastated the ballroom, killing the revellers. In Cinderella’s dream, however, all is well, and she arrives at the ball to find her airman waiting for her. They dance, but he loses her in the crowd and is cornered by the stepmother. He escapes and takes Cinderella home to his lodgings. She returns to the party, but midnight strikes and reality floods back. The building collapses and Cinderella is taken away to hospital on a stretcher, leaving only a single shoe behind her.
The airman scours the streets of war-torn London looking for the girl at the party, becoming obsessed with finding her. He is sent to the hospital for electric shock therapy, where he is reunited with Cinderella. The stepmother and her children visit the hospital and the stepmother makes an attempt to smother Cinderella with a pillow. She is discovered and led away to be arrested. The airman proposes marriage to Cinderella, who accepts.
At Paddington Station, the airman boards a train to return to his unit. Cinderella fears for his safety and asks the Angel to watch over him. The Angel climbs aboard the train and promises to bring the airman back to her safely. There is a puff of steam and the train pulls away from the station.
Cinderella: Kerry Biggin
The airman: Sam Archer
The Angel: Christopher Marney
The Stepmother: Michaela Meazza
Creative Team:
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Sound: Paul Groothius
Set and Costume Design: Lez Brotherston
I saw this production some 14 years ago when it was first launched, and was so excited when I heard it was finally returning. It was interesting to see whether it matched up to my memories and on the whole, I was very pleased to find that it did. Bourne has made several minor changes to the story – gone is the Prologue which shows Cinderella’s family before the arrival of the stepmother and there is a slight tweak to the ending (in the old version, the airman leaves to rejoin his unit and the Angel goes with him, promising to keep him safe. In the new, the airman and Cinderella leave together on the train and the Angel remains behind, instigating the start of the romance from “Brief Encounter”). Neither of these changes is an improvement; the jettisoned prologue allowed you to contrast Cinderella’s life before and after her mother’s death, and the new ending makes no sense whatsoever, leaving a far less emotionally satisfying and complete story. Change it back, Bourne, change it back!
I have a couple of issues with Bourne’s choreography. First is that he crowds the stage with movement and incident, making it very easy to miss important bits of the story if your eye is caught by something else happening on stage. When there is so much going on, details and vignettes go unnoticed and therefore unappreciated. When your story is as clever as this, it would repay tighter focus on the important bits – and also on the humour, of which there is lots. The second is that this is by no means “ballet”; its “dance” and some of it is very ugly indeed. Bodylines and angles are generally sharp, unnatural and awkward, and consequently unpleasant to look at. I would have liked to have seen a lot more classical choreography. I’d also like to have seen a lot more of the principals – whoever was operating the follow spot last night kept it far too tight, meaning that for much of the show, you couldn’t seen the principals’ legs or feet. This is a bit of a bummer when watching dance! Him Indoors pointed out that the quality of Ms. Biggin’s dancing was far superior to that of her partner, who had obviously partly been cast for his looks rather than his ability.
The entire production, however, retains its wonderful filmic quality and there is much fun to be had from spotting incidental details. I loved the seamless break between Cinderella disappearing behind the curtain dancing with a tailor’s dummy and reappearing on the other side with a real man. When Cinderella runs out of the house into the night, she goes through the front door (did you notice her door number was 12?) and pulls it closed behind her. It then immediately swivels on a central axis and we find ourselves outside the house with Cinderella still in the process of coming through it, exactly like a film shot. Just before Cinderella’s arrival at the ball, mist flows down the staircase and the banisters light up, which is a lovely, magical touch. On her visit to the hospital - Ward 12, naturally - the stepmother’s hat is in the shape of an upturned shoe (there is a nice salute to the Ashton choreography here, with the stepmother and her family doing the same steps as Ashton’s Ugly Sisters) and the train leaves Paddington from Platform 12. A lovely touch is that, as it pulls out, the hands of the station clock point to 2 past 12). In a sublime reversal of film tradition, both Cinderella and her airman wear glasses, lose them, fail to recognise each other and only fall in love when both pairs of glasses are returned to their owners. Genius. Its also nice to see a stepmother you can really, really hate! Catch this production while you can (its running until 23rd January 2011) because its completely fresh, highly enjoyable and a wonderful reworking of the Cinderella story. It took me a while to “get back into it” - my “eye” was out for most of the first act and only started coming back “in” during act 2 – but I hope it remains a part of the repertoire.
So it was a real shame that the bars at Sadler’s Wells sell little pots of unshelled pistachio nuts and allow the audience to take these into the auditorium, as the constant cracking of these led to one of the most unpleasant incidents I have ever experienced in a theatre. The couple concerned were drunk, noisy and quite the most ill-mannered, rude and uncouth people it has ever been my misfortune to sit next to. I’m writing to Sadler’s Wells – its ultimately their fault for selling the nuts in the first place – asking them to take some kind of action against these louts (their seat numbers were Q6 and Q7). It’s the closest I’ve ever come to decking someone in public and I apologise to my companions that they had to witness such atrocious behaviour. To the couple concerned: If you bought your tickets through the theatre then they will be contacting you. If you bought them through TicketMaster, I have contacts within that company which I will not fail to exploit. I’m on your trail and you’d better be out of here by midnight because this pumpkin is loaded and I’m not afraid to use it.

Again, this was a preview performance.  Pro reviews will be posted here when available.

03 December 2010

Season's Greetings - National Theatre, Thursday 2nd December 2010


It is Christmas Eve and  Belinda and Neville have invited their family and a couple of friends to stay. The guests include: Neville’s exhausted sister Phyllis; her husband Bernard, a doctor whose annual puppet shows are the stuff of legend and terror to both young and old alike; Neville’s friend Eddie and his pregnant wife Pattie; uncle Harvey, a slightly senile retired security guard and television-addict; Belinda’s unmarried sister, Rachel and her latest beau, Clive, a writer. Like every family Christmas, tensions are running high. Belinda and Neville’s marriage seems to be on the rocks, Phyllis is creating havoc in the kitchen by insisting on cooking the entire Christmas Eve dinner single-handed, Harvey is monopolizing the TV, Pattie is blaming Neville for not having promoted her husband and Rachel hasn’t had sex in months. The awful prospect of Bernard's puppet show hangs over everything. 

Clive’s train is late, is missed at the station by Rachel, and he is instead welcomed by Belinda, who is immediately attracted to him. Harvey, as a result of a misunderstanding, takes an immediate dislike to Clive, believing him to be a homosexual and prospective thief. Clive falls for the frustrated Belinda after Rachel tells him she is looking for no more than friendship. He and Belinda attempt to fulfill their passions beneath the Christmas tree, but are discovered when they set off the various electronic toys and lights beneath the tree in, initially, their lust and then their desperate attempts to turn everything off.

On Boxing Day, Clive arranges to leave as soon as he can. Meanwhile, rehearsals are taking place for Bernard’s puppet show The Three Little Pigs, all his efforts being undermined by Harvey. Bernard eventually snaps and tirades against Harvey. Very early the following morning, Clive, in the process of leaving, is intercepted by Harvey who believes he is a thief taking all the presents. Harvey promptly shoots Clive, who is pronounced dead by the ineffectual Bernard. The ‘corpse’ promptly lets out a moan and calls for Belinda, rather than Rachel. He is taken to hospital and Belinda and Neville are left together, Neville choosing to ignore all that has happened. Merry Christmas!

Neville Bunker – Neil Stuke
Belinda, his wife – Catherine Tate
Phyllis, his sister – Jenna Russell
Bernard, her husband – Mark Gatiss
Rachel, Belinda’s sister – Nicola Walker
Harvey, Neville’s uncle – David Troughton
Eddie – Marc Wooton
Pattie, his wife – Katherine Parkinson
Clive – Oliver Chris

Creative Team:
Written by – Alan Ayckbourn
Director – Marianne Elliott
Designer – Rae Smith
Lighting- Bruno Poet
Music – Stephen Warbeck

I actually wanted to go and see Cinderella, it being my birthday and all. You know, birthdays – the one time of the year when people actually ask you what you would like to see. But instead, Him Indoors calmly announced that he’d bought tickets for Season’s Greetings instead. So, feeling old and crotchety, I was dragged off through the snow and ice to see a play by a writer whose work I find unremittingly grim (not for nothing was the working title of this play In the Bleak Midwinter) and who, in my blinkered view, runs Tennessee Williams and Harold Pinter a close third for the title of “Dirge master”. In fact, halfway down the stairs at the National afterwards, I turned to Him Indoors and said “Do you think people will come and see this just because Catherine Tate’s in it?” Him Indoors (Finalist, Left Side, World Ear Wax Championships) didn’t hear me and instead I got an answer from the bloke going down the stairs in front of me, who turned and said “Why else would you come and see it?” Pretty good question, actually. Several possible responses flashed through my mind, including “Oh, someone’s obviously a big fan”, “Some of us didn’t get given the choice” and “What do you think you look like in that jacket?” but the one that popped out of my mouth was “Certainly not to go home afterwards feeling jolly, that’s for sure”. Because by ‘eck (as they say in Scarborough), not far under the glittery surface of Season’s Greetings there is a dreadfully bleak story. To use a meteorological metaphor, its just like a patch of black ice lurking underneath the pretty dusting of snow onto which you are about to plant your boot. And it’s a story that we can all relate to – The Awful Christmas. Which I suppose is why on the surface, this play is very funny, because to a greater or lesser extent, we’ve all been there. We can all tell stories, hilarious in retrospect, about The Christmas From Hell (in fact, to get things going, I want everyone who reads this review to leave a comment on the subject of “The Worst Christmas Present I Ever Received” or, f you really want to examine your conscience,” The Worst Christmas Present I Ever Gave”).
Once again, the National’s “Build an Entire House On Stage” team had been hard at work, faithfully recreating the ground and first floors (as well as tiny attic) of an enormous “We’re loaded and we want you to know it” home, yet the first floor and attic went almost entirely unused. The action of the play takes place exclusively on the ground floor, but I’m sure that there were directorial possibilities for the rest of the house – I bet you, dear Reader, have had an “Awkward Encounter on the Landing” at one point in your life that you would like to tell us about, or even an “I’ve Tapped Quietly On the Wrong Bedroom Door” moment. (names will be changed to protect the guilty, if necessary). There were some excellent performances, and a few quite ropey ones. I thought that Catherine Tate was remarkably restrained in the role of Belinda compared to how she might possibly have played the part – there was a lot less flailing around and mugging than I expected, and I have to say that I was impressed by her obvious talent for physical comedy, even though you all know that I absolutely loathe and detest farce. What did impress me was that at one point her character gets the line “I’m not bothered” and she didn’t do what everyone in the audience was expecting her to do. I enjoyed Jenna Russell’s Phyllis and Mark Gatiss’s Bernard immensely, but thought very little of Katherine Parkinson’s Pattie, mainly because I couldn’t hear very much of what she said, but also because I thought the way she moved bore little resemblance to how a heavily pregnant woman would actually do so. Costumes were OK on the whole, but I thought that they didn’t show nearly enough of the 80’s fashion excess that we all now find so excruciating. We all laughed at the bits in the script that we could relate to, but most of the audience would have laughed so much harder if they’d been given the chance to cringe in shamed recognition of jogging tops with shoulder pads in or novelty legwarmers (you know who you are!). Yes, there was a Snowman Jumper that bore a remarkable resemblance to one in Bennetton that I pined for as a young fashion victim but (thankfully in retrospect) never got, but one item of comedy knitwear does not an 80’s farce make. More comedy knitwear please!

Of course, everyone practically piddled themselves when the line “Snow never comes at the right time, does it?” was delivered. It’s a crying shame that nobody piddled themselves over the Managing Director of Southeastern Trains. Because that really WOULD have been funny.

What the critics thought:
(This was a preview performance, pro reviews in a week or so)

"Season's Greetings" from 1986 - Geoffrey Palmer, Anna Massey, Barbara Flynn and a worryingly dishy-looking Michael Cashman (or so I thought at the time. The signs were already there).